Cape Town -
The skipper of the ill-fated shark-cage diving vessel - Shark Team - has recalled the day the boat capsized near Kleinbaai, claiming the lives of three tourists.
Grant Tuckett testified in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday that he had not before seen a swell of the size that caused Shark Team to capsize four years ago.
Sarah Tallman, from North Carolina, has taken Shark Team, Tuckett and shark-cage diving business White Shark Projects to court to establish whether they were liable for her husband Chris Tallman’s death on April 13, 2008.
Her husband’s friend, Casey Lajeunesse, and Norwegian tourist Kenneth Rogue also died.
Tuckett said he had set out around 7.30am and, after anchoring, proceeded with shark-cage diving activities for about two hours.
Later, while manning the bait-line, he saw “the swell approach rapidly”.
“I realised that it would strike us or break on us. I started screaming for everyone to ‘Hold on, hold on’.
“Then the wave hit us and in split seconds we were upside down.”
Tuckett told the court that he swam from underneath the vessel and looked at the hull in “complete disbelief”.
He still had a cellphone in his hand because, at the time the wave hit, he was on the phone to another skipper informing him of Shark Team’s position.
Tuckett said that he was ready to pack up for the day when the boat capsized.
“I screamed for everyone to get on to the (upturned) vessel,” Tuckett said.
He and other crewmen rescued his videographer, who was trapped in the shark-cage, as well as a woman whose leg was tangled in rope.
By this time, people were being taken to safety on board the White Shark - the vessel that came to their aid.
Tuckett noticed a German man who appeared to be struggling in the water. He swam out and brought him to safety.
The dive master on board the White Shark then shouted: “We need to go, we need to go.”
Tuckett said he replied: “Have you got everybody?”
The dive master had said: “Yes, and we need to go.”
Soon afterwards a volunteer asked where the Norwegian tourist was because he had his camera. The rescue vessel was a few metres from the scene, Tuckett said.
There was a lot of debris, as well as the cage and life jackets in the water.
When Tuckett’s advocate, Michael Wragge, asked whether he would have acted differently from the crew on the White Shark, Tuckett said: “Absolutely not. You look after the people you can see first. You don’t put the people at risk.
“Also there were (at least four) other vessels in the area to continue the search and rescue.”
The hearing continues.